OdrazB, Feb. 15 1996

BELGRADE - Today, the Corporate court in Belgrade, returned the independent TV and Radio broadcasting company, Studio B, back to state ownership; according to the court, the city of Belgrade is Studio B's legal owner. Judge Milena Arezina accepted the demand from the state Agency for evaluation of social [i.e. state owned] capital submitted on 2/3/96 and declared the registration of independent radio and TV station Studio B to be invalid. Based on that decision, the Belgrade city council named the station's new executive board and the director.

The Corporate court invalidated the registration of Studio B as a shareholding company, dating from April 1991, after finding that Studio B, as an "infrastructure related company" (companies having to do with electro-distribution, rail transport and radio and television) did not have a right to constitute itself as a shareholder owned company.

The court decision cites the Serbian law which regulates privatization of public [state owned] property, according to which infrastructure related companies cannot complete their ownership transformation before an enactment of a law regulating protection, use and development of property of common interest and procedure under which those goods can be privatized.

According to that law, the ownership transformation of companies related to infrastructure is null and void if it was carried out after 3/19/1991. As it was established without a doubt that the decisions about the transformation of Studio B into a shareholding company, were made on 15 and 25 April 1991, this was enough to erase the company from a register of public companies.

The Corporate court overruled Studio B's objection that the deadline for the removal from the register, of four years after the initial registration, has expired. It also rejected an objection that the decision of the state Agency for estimation of the value of capital is unlawful, because of which a suit has been filed in the Supreme court of Serbia. The Corporate court stated that its verdict was the final executive order, which was implementable regardless of whether any other cases were pending.

The court also stated that in spite of the above mentioned fact, it had stopped the hearing to allow the Supreme court to make its decision; since the Supreme court had rejected Studio B's suit on 12/26/1995, the Agency's decision to invalidate Studio B's transformation became valid.

The Belgrade city council is listed as a founder [i.e. owner] of the station; as the court says, the council has never given up its rights nor ownership of the company.

After the verdict, the Belgrade city council appointed the secretary general of the council, Ljubomir Milic, to the position of the president of the independent TV and radio station NTV Studio B's executive board.

According to Beta [independent news agency], Dragisa Kovacevic (former director of channel SOS) was appointed to the position of the caretaker director general of Studio B; he will start at his new position today, February 15 1996 and will stay at this position until a permanent director is appointed.

At the same time Dragisa Kovacevic will carry out duties of the editor in chief until the permanent editor is appointed.

Besides president Milic, another four persons were appointed to the new executive board: two parliamentarians from SPS [ruling party in Serbia], Pedrag Petrovic (director of the credit department in Beobanka) and Goran Vujcic (also from Beobanka), than the member of the executive city council in charge of the media, Mira Durovic and the deputy information secretary from the city government, Branka Dikanovic.

Kovacevic confirmed for Beta that three Studio B employees were also appointed to the new executive board: Dragan Kojadinovic (the president of the old executive board), Vesna Vojvodic and Dimitrije Sladic.

Here are the first reactions:

This morning, opposition parties in Serbia sharply criticized the decision of the Corporate court in Belgrade to nullify the registration of NTV Studio B as a shareholding company, and the decision of the Belgrade city council to appoint a new executive board for the station and assume the ownership of the station.

The Democratic party of Serbia (DSS), stated that "the takeover of a TV station in which name there is a word 'independent', clearly shows that this act has long term political consequences." The DSS press release also says that "the opposition in Serbia must adequately respond to this challenge of the ruling regime; regarding that, DSS invites all democratically oriented parties to take a common action."

The Serbian radical party (SRS) declared that at the todays meeting of its executive council it was decided that SRS "would do everything in its power in order to help the survival of the only media house out of the state control, whose unbiased and objective reporting went against the present power brokers." According to the press release from the SRS information center, SRS believes that "the ruling party and its president [Slobodan Milosevic] have finally institutionalized their dictatorship in Serbia by this takeover of the independent television Studio B."

The Civic Alliance of Serbia (GFS) assessed that the events around Studio B, "only confirm the necessity of cooperation between democratic forces in Serbia, as the only way to free our country from a regime whose aim is to destroy every, even a smallest one, beacon of freedom."

The Serbian renewal movement emphasized in the press release issued by its presidency that the television station - "a symbol of independent journalism", was taken over by "political commissars from JUL [Yugoslav United left, former hard line communists and army generals] and SPS," based on a verdict of the Supreme court of Serbia which will "soon, in a new Serbia, be an object of study as an example of shame for the law and the judicial profession."

Former Studio B's executive board president, Dragan Kojadinovic, said that the takeover of the station by the Belgrade city authorities was "the end of an illusion that we are different from Croatia."

Belgrade Circle vicepresident, Miladin Zivotic, stated that the takeover was a sign that the authorities "have lost their mind."

Vicepresident of the New Democracy party (ND) [SPS' coalition partner in the Serbian parliament], Cedomir Mirkovic, supported the decision of the Belgrade authorities to assume ownership of the station Studio B. This is what Mirkovic stated for the news agency Beta: "I believe that the decision of the city authorities was a solution which will both in the organizational and financial sense stabilize the situation in Studio B and ensure the job security of the journalists."

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP, Feb 15 1996) -- The Serbian government took over the country's first independent television station Thursday, annulling its privatization and dealing the most serious blow yet to freedom of the press.

Police entered Studio B TV to switch off its broadcast antenna, interrupting an address to viewers by Milorad Roganovic, the station's chief editor.

``Only stupid authorities like these can deprivatize something that existed successfully for six years as a private company,'' said Roganovic, who was ousted.

``Who is now going to invest in Serbia when there's obviously complete uncertainty for private companies?'' he asked.

The government launched a similar takeover in 1994, when journalists from the independent daily newspaper Borba were forced out of the company. Those journalists founded a separate daily, called Nasa Borba, but circulation has remained low due to high paper prices and distribution difficulties.

Studio B was founded in 1972 as a state-run radio station with a liberal streak. It was allowed to privatize in 1990 by the ruling Socialists as a wave of democratic changes swept through eastern Europe.

Still, Studio B journalists were under constant pressure because of critical reports on the nationalist regime headed by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

Despite his involvement in the Bosnian peace accord, Milosevic has remained an autocrat at home and continues to hold a firm grip on the economy, media and Parliament.

Several other independent television stations remain in Serbia, but most carry just entertainment programs.

Studio B returned to the air later Thursday, broadcasting music videos.